Social Sciences

According To Research, Good Social Skills May Make For Good Spatial Skills

How easily can you imagine yourself in someone else's shoes? We mean that both figuratively and literally. While knowing how someone is feeling and actually picturing yourself where they're standing may seem like completely unrelated abilities, a Johns Hopkins University study found that socially skilled people also tend to have more developed spatial skills. This discovery has some momentous implications.

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A Social Perspective

For a study published in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers had 48 men and women take a look at buildings made of LEGOs. In each instance, seven figures were situated around the buildings—faceless dolls at one point, toy cameras another time, and plastic triangles yet another time. The participants viewed photos on a laptop representing "the would-be visual perspective" of each type of object, and had to name which figure around the building could "see" the scene. Then, the subjects completed a test to assess their social skills and communication abilities, along with imagination, perseverance, and attention to detail—traits associated with autism spectrum disorder.

So, what happened? It turns out that there was a strong link between volunteers' social skills and their ability to take on the visual perspective of the figures in the scene. As the study's lead author, Amy Shelton, explains: "The results were striking: there was a profound difference in this ability among people with better social skills and those with weaker ones."

A Holistic Perspective

But here's a more interesting tidbit: this was only true when subjects were taking the perspective of the dolls—not the cameras or the triangles. To Shelton, this finding suggests that people "bring something extra to the table when it involves a person."

This discovery is huge when it comes to building social acumen in autistic patients—if these seemingly unrelated skills actually interact with each other, then you may be able to leverage one skill to strengthen the other. For example, having kids build things with LEGOs highlights spatial and math skills while also encouraging socialization. All of your skills work together!

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